54 years ago…

LARRY KASSOUF | opinion@lbknews.com | Source: Longboat Key News

Pipecrafters yard at 7:20 a.m.
Broadway Avenue and Miles Park Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio
Summer 1957

54 years ago… My father would check for any last-minute changes in scheduling before he dropped me off for work at the Van Aken job. He would then go on to the other job sites the company had, but he would return often to the Van Aken job throughout the day, as this was the largest and most complex job the company had. At the end of the workday, he would be there to pick me up.

Pipecrafters was a pipeline construction company. They installed water, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, natural gas and telephone lines. This would be the first of many consecutive summers in which I worked as a common laborer for my father’s company. The money was great, and in one year I would have a driver’s license. A car was in my scope!

My first job each morning was to collect, clean and fill all of the kerosene lamps that had been placed out at quitting time the evening before. Being the youngest and newest employee on the crew that was installing a 60-inch storm sewer line from Shaker Square to Warrensville Road along Van Aken Boulevard (a five-mile stretch), I was given the least desirable chores by the foreman of the crew. However, putting out the lights at the end of the day was a serious matter, since these lights directed traffic away from dangerous conditions for 16 hours of each day. I was proud to earn the trust of the foreman after the appropriate training period.

After completion of the kerosene lamp task, I would be dispatched to the ditch where the crew was placing 60-inch sections of storm sewer pipe. They were five feet tall and eight feet long. Each section had a hole in the top middle of the pipe to hold the attachment from the enormous crane, which placed the sections of pipe in the ground. They also had a joint where each section joined the previous section. Both the hole in the top middle of the pipe and the joints required sealing with hot tar. The inspectors would come at the end of each day to confirm this had been done properly.

At a height of just over five feet, I could literally stand in the pipe and do the second worst job on the project, ‘inside tar man.’ Of course, the worst job was the kerosene lamp detail. Each joint was sealed with hot tar from the inside to keep leakage to a minimum and to ensure that each section of pipe remained aligned properly. The hole on top was also sealed with a plug and tarred from the inside. Between the lights and the tar, I earned my credentials with the foreman, the laborers and the various heavy equipment operators. It was, however, the day laborers who became my friends and mentors.

The laborers were a mixture of Appalachian whites, Blacks, and Italian and Eastern European immigrants. They were singularly the most prideful people I have ever been around. I learned a lot about people and how to treat your fellow voyagers from the day laborers at Pipecrafters.

They never loafed around and always helped each other complete a task. They were not limited in their thinking about the jobs they were tasked. If they could do a job more efficiently and improve the end product by extra effort, they always did so without fanfare. The only “atta-boys” they required were internal or from each other.

They arrived for work on time, took the allotted 30 minutes for lunch and quit on time. They appreciated the opportunity to work and showed that appreciation by working hard all day. They arrived for work clean and neat and left dirty, sweaty and tired. They taught me that it takes just as long to learn a bad habit as it does to learn a good habit. They taught me how to get on with a job, get along and share with others. Additionally, I learned how to make wine, smoke ribs, make sausage, cook food on the manifold of a truck engine and find the best bakeries in the neighborhoods of Cleveland.

At the end of my workday my father was there to pick me up. We would return to the Pipecrafters yard to wind up the day’s company business, then go home for dinner. My father would look at my dirty, sweaty being, slap me on the back and say nothing. I could, however, see the pride in his eyes and the recognition of a job well done. My friends at Pipecrafters made this possible.

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